The darkroom door clashed against the wall as Solas stormed into its crimson shadows cast by the dim safelight. The door secured itself rapidly behind him as he began to pace the length of the room, lost in the throes of his agitation.
The department meeting had not gone how he had planned. His proposal for having his current teaching assistant assigned to him full time, instead of having to share him, was denied by the chair of the department—the professor the assistant split his time with.
Solas had made a great case, gotten some of the other art professors on his side, even pointing out that being the department chair, that infuriating woman could have any other assistant she wanted, and then they both could have had full time graduate assistants teaching in their classrooms, but no. Professor Lavellan was feisty and stubborn, and insisted on irking every last one of his nerves by rejecting his notion. If she was hoping he would give up Cole in exchange for a different full time assistant in his classes then she was sorely mistaken. Cole was brilliant, an immense asset with promising talent--and Lavellan knew it too. Which was precisely why she wasn’t about to give him up either.
She gave him a counter-proposal since neither of them would budge on Cole--to share another assistant to make up the full twenty hours of delegated help.A first year graduate art student by the name of Sera—and a week to consider her offer.
His pacing slowed as his irritation faded. He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose as he sorted out his remaining thoughts. Her proposal was not desirable, but not completely terrible. He would need the extra help in his classes with the date of the upcoming Winter Art Showcase looming in next few months. The upside of the offer was it he would gain another pair of eyes, a fresh mind to bring ideas to the drawing board. The downside was this new assistant, Sera, would have no idea how he operated and would need time to acclimate. Solas also knew nothing about this new student so it would take some adjusting on his part too—which he wouldn’t have to do with Cole. He had already established rapport with the young man who knew exactly what Solas wanted out of every project, and was familiar with his teaching styles.
Thinking about Cole sparked his memory of why he had even sought out the darkroom in the first place. Cole had been developing his latest batch of film earlier this morning and had asked him to collect the photos he had left to dry while he was in class.
He walked to far side of the room where all the newly developed photos were hanging to dry. With a gentle hand he began to pluck the dried photos from the line, casually glancing at their subject matter until one in particular caught his eye.
His jaw went slack.
A semi-naked figure was basking in dim rays of light falling from the upper left side of the photo. It was just the perfect amount of illumination to highlight the curves of her form that were masked behind a crimson piece of fabric draped around her body. He quickly glanced at the next photo hanging on the line in front of him.
These were most definitely not Cole’s photographs.
He felt a sudden rush of blood flood his face as he realized just who it was posed in the pictures. He glanced back down at the photos in his hands, flipping through them with new found curiosity. And the warmth continued to spread across his cheeks as the photos became more and more...revealing.
It took him a second to notice the pictures flowed in a progression, as part of a collection.
He looked back up at the next photo hanging on the line. He stopped pulling them down and simply studied each one instead. He found himself hypnotized by the story that was unfolding before his eyes. He was captivated.
The fabric had fallen away from her shoulders, exposing the slender slope of her back. Her head had turned to the side, peering over the cusp of her shoulder with eyes that smoldered like dying embers, bright and alluring. In the next photo she had moved to face the camera, the fabric that had been keeping her modesty intact had all but fallen away—held up only by clenched fist in the center of her chest. The other hand was reaching out towards him.
His fingers ghosted over the glossy surface of the picture. He had always known Lavellan was beautiful, but never let himself acknowledge it until now.
And it compeletly overthrew him.
Studying the image closer, he noticed there were painted handprints on her body--in a bright white ink contrasting with the her ochre skin that left marks along her jaw, enclosed around her throat, her shoulders, arms, down her chest…
He should have looked away, should have quietly and quickly repined the photos and walked away. This was a personal collection. But he couldn’t tear his gaze from her face as she peered at him through heavy lidded eyes, begging him to stay locked there with her.
He was so enveloped by her gentle beauty he failed to register the sound of the darkroom door opening and the woman that slipped in.
At the sound of her gasp, Solas tore his eyes off Lavellan in the photograph to spin around and face the very real Lavellan standing a few feet in front of him, her eyes widening so large in shock her eyebrows disappeared under her carefully styled bangs. A hand was covering her mouth.
He jumped, so startled by her sudden presence that he accidently dropped the photos he was holding as he bumped into the counter behind him, sending them fluttering around at his feet.
“Oh my gods, how much did you see— “
“I did not mean to---I—I mean— “
“I apologize— “
He immediately dropped to his knees and began to collect the fallen pictures, his ears and face burning. She had caught him red-handed, gaping at pictures of her practically naked. This was just going to make the already complicated relationship between them that much more…complicated. Not to mention every time he looked at her now, he would be picturing how beautifully the curve of her bare back arched in repose. He was grateful for the redshifted glow from the safelight masking his what otherwise would have been very noticeably prominent blush. A half a beat later she was on her knees too, picking up the last few pictures off the floor before snatching the remaining photos from his hands and quickly assembling them into their proper order.
“What were you doing?” She hissed, her shock quickly evaporating into irritation.
“Cole asked a favor of me, I thought those were his photos until I noticed the subject…” He replied, spying one last photo that had landed a few feet to his right.
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Cole sent me here to get his photos.” She followed his line of sight and spotted the last picture.
This wasn’t the first time Cole had asked one of them to do something for him, forgetting that he had previously asked the other first. Or maybe he did it on purpose. Solas was beginning to these “accidental” run ins were not so coincidental anymore.
They both reached for it at the same time, fingers brushing over each other as they placed their hands on the photo. They locked gazes again.
His heart leapt into his throat as she heatedly stared him down, her hand still resting on his. The tension between them was magnetic, he could feel it pulling him in deeper into those luminous golden eyes.
She took a sharp, hitching intake of breath when they were but a few inches from one another and shook her head breaking their contest, bangs falling into her bright eyes blocking their glow and he snapped out of his trance.
She yanked the picture out from under his hand. “Regardless, you shouldn’t have been looking at these!”
She clutched them to her chest, her expression twisting into an embarrassed glare. Which only drew his attention to her mouth, and what a lovely shape her lips were even when pursed.
Solas cleared his throat.
“Perhaps avoid hanging such risqué collections in public settings, then unsuspecting patrons would not accidentally stumble upon them.”
“This room has no scheduled classes for the next two hours!”
“Regardless.” He said tilting his head, imitating the patronizing tone she had used on him. But then he softened his voice and added, “But…they are beautiful photos.”
He couldn’t help the slightly smug tug of his lips watching her fluster to come up to retort.
“It—I--Pretend you didn’t see anything.” She stammered briskly as she scrambled to her feet, now suddenly unable to meet his gaze.
He watched as she bolted out the door. Between the pounding of his heart and the racing of his thoughts, he had no idea how to react to all this. He glanced down at his hand, flexing his fingers as if to shake off the lingering sensation of the way hers felt draped over his.
And the worst part was he should have known better that to let himself get sucked in. Desperate for a distraction, he rose and busied himself with Cole’s request. He searched the room thoroughly.
Cole’s photographs were nowhere to be found.
Taking a generous sip from glass of her pinot noir, Venus dipped a painted toe into her steaming bath, testing its temperature. It was perfect. She set down her wine glass on the far edge of the tub, next to a cluster of rose scented candles she had lit to add more ambiance. She unfastened the belt of her robe and let it fall to the floor in one flourishing gesture, leaving her bare. She had deserved this damn it. It had been a long, taxing and tenuous day; the first week of the new semester had finally come to a close, she had successfully held the first department meeting and effectively kept Solas in his place without too much backlash.
Except for the events that transpired in the darkroom shortly after.
She pressed a hand against her forehead and pushed down the embarrassment that threatened to rise up again. How had she been so stupid to leave her private collection hanging there. It was extremely intimate, and not just because the content was more explicit in nature. The meaning behind the photos was personal, and wasn’t something she wanted to share with just anyone—especially from work. That collection was for a gala coming up outside of her job as one of the leading art professors at the University of Orlais. It was a big deal she was even showcasing them at an exhibition (where no one would know her, she was entering anonymously) at all.
Though Solas wasn’t just anyone, she had been working with him now for a few years and had developed a peculiar relationship with him. At times they shared a light-hearted comradery over their shared love of the arts. But, they also butt heads a lot over teaching styles. He preferred a more traditional approach, utilizing ancient techniques to make his artwork stand out. While she gave the ancient styles a modern twist. He disagreed with her way of mixing the two. So naturally that turned their professional relationship into a competition; constantly trying to out-do one another, a friendly rivalry of sorts. They knew how to get underneath one another’s skin and push them to the edge but not over.
She cringed again when she remembered her hasty and ungraceful retreat from the darkroom. Leaving herself exposed in that context was a stupid failing on her part and now gave him a one up on her. She knew Solas had access to that room too—they were the only professors that taught film photography, in addition to their other classes, so of course he would be able to get in and out of that room at any given moment. Next time she would be more careful. She cursed herself for not having been able to voice herself better in the moment but her resolve melted the moment they accidentally touched.
Creators damn him and the effect he had on her. Though she’d never let him know the extent of that.
She needed to unwind.
Putting the day, and thoughts of Solas aside, she stepped into the bath. She couldn’t help but let out a heady groan as she slipped into the heated water. She could practically feel it draining the tension that had pent up in her back as she settled in, with the aid of the wine too, playfully batting aside some of the bubbles that had built up at her neck. She took a moment to just let the warmth envelope her, drowning out all her senses and relaxing all her muscles.
She trailed her fingers down the swells of thighs, smiling as she tenderly massaged away her stress. She felt good, confident...
She let her tipsy mind wander onto less stressful things, like how wonderfully her date went last weekend with Soris—the elf from the city she had casually started seeing a few weeks ago. It was nothing serious, more a much needed distraction. She focused on how his touch felt against her bare skin, while gliding her fingers between her thighs. She wondered if he’d want to do it again, he seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed himself as much as she had…
Then an idea popped into her head.
She reached out, lazily dabbing her wet hand on her robe before snagging her phone off the lid of the toilet seat adjacent to her. She swiped her thumb across the screen and unlocked it. She opened the camera feature and held the phone up.
She readjusted her body, arching her back ever so slightly. With her free hand she rearranged the bubbles so that there were barely any covering her body, revealing every inch of her smooth skin. She picked up her wine glass again and held it aside her lips, which she caught between her teeth and twisted her mouth into an alluring smile. Tilting her head and body in several coquettish poses while she snapped a few shots.
She sipped her wine while she evaluated each picture, finally settling on the one that had her breasts in full view breaking the surface of the water, exposed skin glistening with only a hint of bubbles floating just above the junction of her thighs. She liked that one. She looked good. She could hardly contain the fluttering sensation in her stomach as she attached the picture to a text that said simply “care to join me?”. She rapidly typed out the first few letters of his name in the recipient line, selecting him from the list of people that automatically popped up and hit send.
She rested her phone where she had previously set her wine and settled in to wait for a response, quite pleased with herself.
She didn’t have to wait too long before her phone went off, signaling a new message had arrived.
But when she opened it, she began choking on the wine she had been trying to swallow.
It was a picture of Solas.
Granted he was clothed, but gone was his worn and paint smudged sweater and in its place was a freshly pressed white button down shirt—that he had rolled the sleeves to reveal his lightly freckled forearms. He wore a snug, dark green vest over it that hugged his torso in all the right places, accentuating the broadness of his shoulders. He was lifting his own wine glass in mock cheers, a brow quirked as a small smile tugged at the edges of his mouth.
She temporarily forgot how to breathe as her brain short circuited. A new rush of heat spread throughout her body that absolutely nothing to do with the temperature of her bath.
Because the only thing she could focus on was how damn fine he looked in a vest.
She shook her head vigorously. She should not be thinking about Solas in that way. He was her co-worker. So why then had he even sent her a picture?
Unless she accidently hit his name instead of….
Oh no. No no no…
She immediately shot up to a sitting position, sloshing a bit of the water out of the tub at her jarring movement. She scrolled up in their message thread. Panic and embarrassment rose up from her gut as she saw her picture there—in all its naked glory—with the small little checkmark beneath it that signified her message had delivered successfully. Her stomach clenched as reality sunk in.
She had sent Solas her nude.
She clamped a hand down on her mouth to muffle the most undignified squealing noise that managed to escape past her lips as she realized that this was the second time in one day he had accidentally seen her naked. But this time, she didn’t even have the excuse of “artistic expression” to hide behind. She had practically thrown this at him. The only evidence that he was slightly phased by the raciness of her photo was the lovely shade of pink the tips of his ears had flushed in his selfie.
If she drowned right then and there in that tub she wouldn’t have minded one bit. In fact, she might have preferred it.
And then she noticed he had written something beneath his picture.
I must say your shallow depth of field leaves little to the imagination and the photo is underexposed.
She gaped at the message, releasing a small cry of offense. How dare he!
Really?? Are you seriously offering critique on my nude?
I felt it was an appropriate response.
We are artists after all, critique is the basis of our discourse.
Nudes can hardly be considered art.
I would think you would argue they are. With how the direction modern art is taking, despite my own prejudices, one would assume these self-portraits would count as an artistic medium much like film prints, worthy of critique.
She could not believe she was having this conversation right now. He was making fun of her! Sarcastic bastard. She felt had never felt more exposed.
You don’t critique a nude when someone sends one to you!!
So are you seeking compliments?
I thought you did not want me seeing you naked.
Mythal fucking enaste.
Her face was burning.
Creators, that’s not what I meant! It’s not that I don’t want you seeing me naked, I --
She deleted the words nearly as fast as she had typed them. Her traitorous subconscious struck again. She started over.
I am so unbelievably sorry, that was not meant for you—
Solas, Please, just forget this ever happened. It was--
She made a disgusted noise and deleted all the text she had typed a third time. Nothing sounded right.
So she defaulted to dry humor.
Well it’s a little too late for that at this point, it’s not as if you haven’t seen it all before.
That… wasn’t any better. Where was her tact?
She smacked the phone against her forehead a few times muttering to herself, trying to piece together the right thing to say to explain her way out of this mess.
She watched in between smacks as the little telltale “…” popped up on her phone screen and stopped the technological assault on her face. Her stomach began fluttering again, and not in the uncomfortable way. Fuck.
I was under the impression I was to pretend I hadn’t seen anything.
Unless you’ve changed your mind.
He was serious.
A new wave of heat crept across her face at the prospect.
She didn’t know how to respond, because quite frankly, she had. She secretly liked the turn of events.
Then I feel because I gave criticism, I should also offer praise on the elements of the photo that were successful, such as the choice of its subject matter.
It is... fascinating.
She might have squealed and tossed her phone back onto her robe like it burned her.
He was toying with her. She could practically hear that amused chuckle echoing around her bathroom as she squirmed in the tub. She quickly covered her blushing face with her hands, attempting to hide the new flushed mix of arousal and embarrassment from surfacing, and tried not to think about his lips and how they probably were bearing a prideful smirk over his own glass of wine—wherever he was.
There was no escape but under.
She took a deep breath and submerged herself beneath the water.